Kyparissiotes: Decade 2.6

May 18, 2011

From John Kyparissiotes, Decades, PG 152, 767 A – 769 B.

Chapter Six. That God is neither discerned from a natural representation, nor is he one of those things that think or are thought, such that one might theologize of him out of those things which he is in himself.

The divine Maximus, in chapter one of his Centuries on Theology, says:

“There is one God, without beginning, incomprehensible, possessing absolutely the power of existing, who utterly excludes all notion of existing ‘when’ and ‘how,’ in such a way that none of the things that are has discerned him from a natural representation.”

[2.6.1] Maximus, Centuria I.1; PG 90, 1084 A.

And again, the same author:

“Just as every thought has its basis entirely in substance, as a quality, so also it possesses its motion as something that has been produced around substance. For it is impossible for something completely independent and simple, existing in itself, to admit of thought, since thought is not independent and simple. But God, who exists in both respects as entirely simple, both as a substance without anything in subject, and as thought possessing nothing at all as its object, is not one of the things that think or are thought, since, in fact, he exists above substance and thinking.”

[2.6.2] Maximus, Centuria II.3; PG 90, 1125 D.

And, yet again, the same author, in the eleventh chapter of his first Century:

“All beings are said to be objects of thought, possessing the demonstrable principles whereby they may be known. But God is not named as an object of thought, but it is out of those things which are objects of thought that he is believed to be; for which reason, none of the objects of thought may in any way be compared with him.”

[2.6.3] Maximus, Centuria I.8; PG 90, 1085 C.

And, once more, the same author in the second chapter of his second Century:

“Every thought involves things which think and things which are thought of. But God is not one of those things that think; for that which, qua thinking, is in need of a relationship with the object of thought, is circumscribed; or else, being thought of, it naturally falls subject to the one who thinks, given the terms of that relationship. It therefore follows that God neither thinks nor is thought. For thinking and being thought of naturally pertain to the things which come after him.”

[2.6.4] Maximus, Centuria II.2; PG 90, 1125 C.

And the most theological Dionysius says:

“For, as things intelligible cannot be comprehended and contemplated by things of sense, and things uncompounded and unformed [cannot be comprehended] by things compounded and formed, and the intangible and unshaped formlessness of bodiless things [cannot be comprehended] by things formed according to the shapes of bodies: according to the same analogy of the truth, the supersubstantial indefiniteness stands above substances, and the unity above mind is above minds; and the One above minds is unthinkable to all powers of thought; and the Good above word is unutterable by word — that Henad which makes every henad one, and supersubstantial Substance, and mindless Mind, and unspeakable Word, that irrationality and mindlessness and namelessness, which exists after the manner of no existent thing, and is cause of being to all, but itself is not, as being beyond all substance.”

[2.6.5] Ps.-Dionysius, De divinis nominibus, I.1; PG 3, 588 B.

From these things it becomes clear that no one who has ever been or will be may discern God out of a natural representation. For, in every way, he eludes any notion of being “when” or “how”; nor is God one of the things which think or are thought, for he is substance without anything standing to it as subject, and thinking never once having anything for an object. Upon what then might knowledge be based of that thing which in no way admits of an objective ground for being known? Therefore he is also, fittingly, a “supersubstantial indefiniteness,” and mind not thought by any thinking; or rather, he is “mindless Mind, and unspeakable Word,” being called “irrationality” and “mindlessness” on account of the excess of essence and cognition; just as, similarly, extreme light produces darkness, and extreme sound deafens.

One Response to “Kyparissiotes: Decade 2.6”

  1. bekkos Says:

    Notes on the above.

    The title of this chapter, in Greek, is: ὅτι οὐδὲ ἐκ φυσικῆς ἐμφάσεως ὁ θεὸς διαγινώσκεται οὐδέ τι τῶν νοούντων ἢ νοουμένων ἐστίν, ἵνα καὶ ἐκ τῶν καθ’ αὐτὸν θεολογηθῇ. The chapter raises a number of questions of interpretation. One of them has to do with the meaning of the word ἔμφασις; I have translated it as “representation,” essentially in the same way that Francisco Torres translated the word in the sixteenth century when he rendered it into Latin as repraesentatio. (Some other possible translations that come to mind: impression, apperception. The Greek word has a root sense of “appearing in,” presumably implying an appearance in the mind or memory.) Torres has a note on the word (PG 152, 767 C); he interprets ἔμφασις to mean whatever is found in the mind or intellect that is based upon images (phantasmata) of things perceived by the senses.

    A question might well be raised about my translating νοέω and its derivatives by the English word “think.” Torres translated the word by intelligere, and one might have expected to see it translated as “understand.” But there is an imperfect equivalence of words in English and in Greek for denoting operations of the mind; one seeks in vain to establish one-to-one correspondences between terms. For example: the word “intellectual” conveys, to some American minds, images of pipe-smoking men in tweeds opining on matters of public policy, a connotation which I doubt νοητικός ever conveyed to a Greek audience. The chief reason why I have chosen to use the word “think” to translate νοέω and its derivatives in this chapter is that it seems clear enough that Kyparissiotes’ main point is that God is neither subject nor object; he neither engages in any rational, intellectual activity to comprehend things nor is his reality such as to be graspable by any such activity. It is perhaps not very shocking to say that God is not understood: there are many things we think and talk about all the time that we don’t really understand; but Kyparissiotes is, I think, saying something more extreme than this: in the strict sense, we cannot think “God”; and, when we do think “God,” we need to be reminded that we are not thinking “God” as God is in himself. Nor, in the strict sense, does God himself “think.” This naturally raises serious questions about what we mean when we use the word “God”; those questions, I think, will be addressed by Kyparissiotes in subsequent chapters of this work.


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